Groningen Starts Up for one Weekend

By Anna Portella

Could you imagine powering your phone’s battery with the energy generated by your bike as you commute? A pedal power generator could be your Christmas present, if only you could add it into your Facebook’s “My wish list,” aimed to stop feeding your worst-ever-received-gifts catalogue, by sharing your preferences with your friends.

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Here are two examples of the business projects from 11 competing teams of the Startup Weekend Groningen 2016 originally pitched on Sunday the 20th, after working for less then 54 hours as real entrepreneurs.

The Startup Weekend, a competition that takes place in many cities around the world with the goal of teaching entrepreneurship by doing, returned last weekend at The Big Building in Groningen beating its 6th edition.

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Starting on Friday 18th at 5:30pm, 88 participants chose 11 business ideas out of the 35 initial ones to turn them into real projects in one weekend -the deadline was on Sunday at 6:30pm.

This edition’s winner was i-Judge, a platform to provide small and medium business with an alternative, quicker and cheaper procedure to solve their legal problems.

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The jury awarded this project, deeming it “very disruptive” and the “the most realistic one to actually turn into a viable business to solve a big issue,” as explained Joshua Peper, a member of the jury and CTO of Peperzaken, before announcing this edition’s winners at the final ceremony.

The access to the legal system in the Netherlands is pretty difficult because it’s a very long and expensive procedure,” explained Steven Hanemaaijer, author of the original business idea behind i-Judge. “That way they [small and medium business] don’t have to go to court,” he added.

Wubbo, a service to help people to be aware of their drug-consumption by keeping track of the substances taken, was awarded the second place.

A 54-hour training to start out

I’ve slept eight hours since Friday,” said Rosalie Otten (Wubbo), while finishing their team’s project presentation a few hours before the deadline.

Turning 11 initial ideas into feasible prototypes implied a weekend-long research on the business plan’s building blocks – potential markets or revenue sources, amongst other things- in addition to other creative tasks, such as designing the prototype or the logo.

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One of the basic steps towards success is to gain good product validation -“Show me data of how many people have this problem, how big the market is,” said one coach to a participant who was rehearsing his presentation on stage at the auditorium.

For this reason, many groups spent most of their time testing their products. “On Saturday me and the girls went to the streets to interview a lot of people. It was really difficult, because everyone was in a hurry,” explained Mitchell Mungroop, who pitched the idea behind Easy Chef, a service via Whatsapp that provides people with personalized recipes.

Most of the time you don’t stick to your initial idea so the project you have right now is the product of the last 48 hours,” explained Jeffrey Afolabi, author of Wubbo‘s embryonic idea. It was almost 5pm on Sunday and in the background there were playing “It’s the final countdown.”

We wanted to create an eco-gym, to keep the energy generated while working out,” said Beatriz (Enerky), “but we ended up designing a pedal power generator integrated into a bike lock key” she added, convinced that their project could win.

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Part of this mutation from the initial idea to the final project was due to the coaches and mentors advice throughout the weekend, usually highlighting the project’s “negative things,” as Mungroop said.

Teamwork and feedback from the other participants who played their role as well into this evolving process – “You have to think about working together with other people rather than coming here and promoting your own idea,” said Wilbert van de Kamp, another member of the jury and one of the founders of Omapost, an app to send a personalized photo card to your grandma. This startup was born in the 2014 edition and is still successfully working.

It’s not about business but more about creating a community

Although the Startup Weekend is featured as a contest with “winners” and “losers” and a platform to start up, the event’s attraction lies on the experience of networking with the other participants, the members of the organization and the jury, and the coaches and mentors.

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I get so much energy from the people, they are amazing. I still use my network. It’s one of the best weekends of the year,” explained Joëlle Hooijer, one of this edition’s organizers.

The attendees also considered the event as the best way to learn the art of turning creative solutions to real problems into profitable businesses while having fun.

You should see the Startup Weekend as a safety net and a platform to fail, so that you will learn from that,” said Jay Henriquez, who picked up this lesson after pitching his idea of a water-based rocket in 2014 and 2015 with no success, and this edition he finally found a team to launch his project, RLX.

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I knew nothing about techniques and apps and now I know a lot,” said Mungroop, who also confessed that after participating for his 4th time he is now “addicted” to the Startup Weekend. “I’ve kept coming back because I learn more here than doing business classes,” he added.

How to cook a good idea

Eight out of nine projects born in the Startup Weekend fail the Monday after the event,” explained Hooijer, while finishing a piece of chocolate cake that was served after lunch at the Big Building’s bar.

There are many reasons to explain such abrupt failure. The first one is the way back to reality after this weekend-entrepreneur bubble. But also many projects die because they are built upon half or barely cooked business ideas.

What makes an idea a good one then? “Most of the times it is a very simple idea,” explained Wilma Mansveld, the 3rd member of the jury, during the final ceremony break.

Think about a problem, think about a solution and make it 10 times as easy,” explained Van de Kamp, unveiling one of the musts-to for winning the Startup Weekend contest.

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Indeed, startups need to provide solutions to real problems. “It has to be realistic, you cannot come up with something that you cannot use tomorrow,” said Mansveld.

Demystifying the Startup Weekend

Although we tend to link the concept “startup” with Sillicon Valley -young software programmers developing worldwide downloaded apps- everybody willing to challenge their entrepreneurial side is welcome to the Startup Weekend.

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I thought there would be more business people,” confessed Rachel Hibma (The Piggy Bank), a Psychology student that wanted to dip her toe into the entrepreneurial waters and get to know new people.

In addition, any creative solution, not only the tech-based ones, can find its place in the contest.

It’s even better if it’s not an app or a website. I like it more when it’s a physical project or product,” confessed Van de Kamp, flaunting the Omapost logo sticker on his customized laptop and the wooden shaped grandma’s face hanging on a collar.

Actually, this year the Big Building’s walls have witnessed both digital and non-digital based projects growing up in less than three days -from a store to buy-and-sell vintage clothes and furniture while taking a coffee (The Living Room), to a platform that finds shelter to Groningen’s newcomers (International Student Platform).

It is said that to know how the world would look like in 50 years, you firstly have to have a look at the Netherlands. So be aware of what comes in through your window, because if the Big Building’s startup laboratory keeps on experimenting with creative solutions, we may end up seeing our grandmas launching rockets to send us their photo postcard.

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